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Bird flu outbreak hits Shanghai

Millions of birds have been killed in Asia following the outbreak.
Millions of birds have been killed in Asia following the outbreak.

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World Health Organization

BEIJING, China (Reuters) -- China has reported outbreaks of bird flu in the financial hub, Shanghai, and three other regions as the World Health Organization said it could not rule out the possibility of human infection in the country.

Fourteen of China's 31 provinces and major cities have confirmed outbreaks of the avian influenza that has killed 14 Vietnamese and five Thais and led to the culling of millions of poultry in eight Asian countries.

China's Ministry of Agriculture confirmed outbreaks in Shanghai, the northern city of Tianjin near the capital Beijing, the southwestern province of Yunnan and the southern province of Guangdong, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Xinhua said a black swan had died at a zoo in Shenzhen, on the border with Hong Kong, due to the H5N1 bird flu virus.

The ministry Web site said almost 7,800 people had been put under medical observation after coming into close contact with infected birds but no human infections had been reported.

China is already battling to keep another deadly virus, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, from resurfacing. China has reported four cases since last July when a global epidemic was declared.

While China has yet to report any cases of bird flu jumping to humans, a WHO expert said that did not necessarily mean that in such a large country no human cases existed.

"There's a possible scenario that there are human cases," WHO bird flu expert Jeff Gilbert told Reuters Television. "We are concerned, as we are looking at a huge population of people who are with poultry."

That makes monitoring difficult.

"Surveillance is a long-term investment in China and other countries in the region," Gilbert said.

Controlling outbreaks in China, the world's most populous nation with 1.3 billion people, is worrying to health experts because nearly four out of five fowl are raised on household farms where peasants live close to their animals.

More than 1.2 million chickens had been culled in China alone as a result of the outbreak, the ministry has said.

China is expected to produce more than 10 million tons of poultry in 2004.

Copyright 2004 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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